President Biden joins federal, state and local officials to break ground on Portal North Bridge

Oct. 26, 2021
The new bridge will provide increased capacity, deliver improved reliability of service and fix a chokepoint on the Northeast Corridor.

The Portal North Bridge, the Western Hemisphere’s busiest rail bridge and a notorious chokepoint on the Northeast Corridor, is one step closer to its next chapter that will include greater reliability and capacity with a ceremonial groundbreaking of the project to replace the bridge attended by federal, state and local officials, including President Joseph Biden.

The Portal North Bridge is a key project of the Gateway Program and calls for the replacement of a swing span that carries about 450 New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit) and Amtrak trains daily over the Hackensack River. The bridge is the busiest rail span in the Western Hemisphere and when an issue or failure occurs, the impact on rail movements not only affects New Jersey, but has cascading effects throughout the Northeast Corridor.

President Biden noted the bridge was considered state of the art when it was built 110 years ago, but now carries many other less flattering descriptors including “a ‘chokepoint,’ a ‘bottleneck,’ and an ‘Achilles heel’ of the Northeast Corridor.”

“Aging infrastructure like this is more than an inconvenience or a nuisance; it’s an impediment — impediment to America’s global competitiveness,” said President Biden. “Today, we’re moving forward on a new bridge that will be higher over the water, so it won’t need to open and close. It’ll allow us to increase speed, safety and efficiency and capacity. It’s going to make life a lot better for New Jersey’s commuters. It’s also going to create nearly 8,000 construction jobs in this area alone — this area’s workers — 8,000 union jobs.”

The new fixed span structure will carry two tracks more than 50 feet above the river – eliminating moveable components of the existing bridge, as well as conflicts with maritime traffic.

“Today is a great day for New Jersey and the entirety of the Northeast Corridor,” said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. “This momentous groundbreaking is the culmination of years of hard work, planning and relentless lobbying undertaken by our administration, our federal delegation and so many dedicated partners across government. The Portal North Bridge is the beginning of the largest critical infrastructure project in our nation, and with President Biden’s leadership, we are embarking on the path to completion of the Gateway Program.”

In January 2021, NJ Transit entered a Full Funding Grant Agreement with the Federal Transit Administration to fund the project with $766.6 million through the Capital Investment Grants Program. The project is also being funded by NJ Transit and Amtrak.

Last week, the transit authority’s board approved a nearly $1.56 billion construction contract with Skanska/Traylor Bros Joint Venture to construct the new bridge. The contract is the largest award in NJ Transit’s history.

The Portal North Bridge project spans 2.44 miles of the Northeast Corridor line and includes construction of retaining walls, deep foundations, concrete piers, structural steel bridge spans, rail systems, demolition of the existing bridge and related incidental works. Construction is anticipated to take approximately five and a half years.

“This groundbreaking represents a monumental step forward towards improving the overall customer experience and quality of life of the many Northeast Corridor riders that rely on NJ Transit and Amtrak to take them safely to their destinations each day,” said New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner and NJ Transit Board Chair Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti.

Amtrak Board Chairman and Gateway Development Commission Vice-Chair Tony Coscia added, “Replacing a century-old moveable bridge with a modern one that does not have to open and close will make life better for hundreds of thousands of Amtrak and NJ Transit riders on the Northeast Corridor while putting Americans to work building 21st century infrastructure we can be proud of.”

President Biden’s infrastructure push

The president also used the groundbreaking ceremony as a backdrop to promote his “Build Back Better” plan and bipartisan infrastructure deal, both of which are still being negotiated on Capitol Hill.

“I’m a train guy, because it also is the single-most significant way we can deal with air pollution, the single-most significant way we can deal with global warming,” said President Biden. “With my infrastructure bill, we’re going to make sure projects like this are just the beginning… We’re going to make the largest investment in public transportation in the history of America, replacing transit vehicles that are past their useful life and make the most significant investment in rail since the creation of Amtrak 50 years ago.”

The president added, “So, to everyone here today, especially Gov. Murphy and other dedicated officials here today, thank you for showing us what’s possible. Because when we make these investments, there’s going to be no stopping America. We will own the future.”

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.